The Truth about Truth

“The moment an emotion or fact is transformed into a photograph it is no longer a fact but an opinion.
There is no such thing as inaccuracy in a photograph. All photographs are accurate.
None of them is the truth”
Richard Avedon


 I teach a class at the local college called “Digital Photography for Fine Art Majors.”  It is a cleverly titled class which is, in fact, about digital photography for fine art majors. As with all endeavors of higher education, there is the standard breakdown of students, from the engaged and inquisitive to the quasi-complacent.

A couple of these students, while post-processing their images, struggle with feelings that they need to limit any toning as they don’t want their images to look “fake.” I can understand as, when I was young, I felt that way, too. Digital photography has given the photographer so much control that it can be hard, when starting out, to know when to say when. There is so much bad photography, and even worse processing, out there that those who are serious about the art and the craft become often become gun shy. They play it safe and stick to the facts, the reality, of the original scene.

The trouble with that reasoning is two-fold. The first is that we should not be photographing things as they are, we should be presenting things as they feel. As they feel to us. As we want them to feel to others. Our goal should not be to recreate “reality”, but rather to transcend it, providing our viewers with more meaning and emotion in our images than they would otherwise get if they were viewing the actual scene.

The second, as alluded by Avedon, is that photographs are, by their very nature, not reality (whatever that may mean to us). They are our creations and, as such, are subject to our biases, preferences and personalities. They are, in essence, as much about us as they are about the subject in front of the lens.

So, embrace the powers of burning and dodging. Fear not pure blacks nor the high contrasts and, most importantly of all, put more faith in your opinion than in any truth.


Abstinence Makes the Art Grow Fonder?

130628_SnowSculpture2_GlacierNPRetreating Snow, North Cascades National Park

I now know three photographers who have taken a vow of photographic chastity, refusing to have a deep and meaningful relationship with, or even sneaky, backdoor peek of, the images of other photographers. Their thinking, if I understand them correctly, is that they don’t want their work to be unduly influenced by those photographs.

While I respect their decision (as if I had a choice and as if they actually cared), I am somewhat confused as to their reasoning. The ironic and irrefutable fact of art (unless you actually want to refute it) is that it is dependent on influence. Whether that influence be from other artists, friends, fore-bearers, a cab driver or the color purple, it all combines and interplays to shape us into individuals. And it is as individuals that we create art.

By artificially limiting our prospective influences, whether artistic or otherwise, we are not expanding our creative individuality, we are quite possibly limiting it.

But, to be honest, I am not even sure such abstinence is even possible. Photographs, artworks, are all around us. Galleries, magazines, friends, students, customers…..we can’t ignore them all, no matter how hard we try.

For my part, I will continue to happily and eagerly welcome photographic influence while, at the same time, striving to avoid the ever-present pitfalls of being derivative. I love photography, mine and others, and would be all the sadder without it.

Ever Forward

                                                                                                                              Detail #3, Pathfinder Dam, North Platte River, WY

A friend and great b/w photographer Arthur Ransome blogged recently about photography as a self-portrait or an examination of self-identity. In other words, what we photograph, and what we share, are a direct reflection of each of us. He transitions that into feelings that he needs to move his photography into a different direction, but doesn’t know where or how. I am repeating what he wrote because I feel the same way, exactly the same way, and have for some time. It’s good to know I am not alone in this persistent and nagging, yet shadowy, awareness.

As much as I might try, thinking about it only makes the ideas and feelings recede further into my mind. Like in Dante’s Inferno, the more I travel towards my intended goal, the further away I get. I need to approach this as one might try to see on a moonlit night: not look directly at my goal, but around it. The periphery. Then maybe….

Despite the uncertainty, I think it’s a positive sign. It shows I am not satisfied with the past, or even current iterations of my work, but want to move forward, grow.  Of course, which direction “forward” is, and what it will eventually reveal about me, I still don’t exactly know.  I have little conscious say in the matter.